Sea of Thieves gets serious on how the game's progression system works

How exactly do players progress in Sea of Thieves? What does it mean to become a "Pirate Legend"? Is there more to do beyond the relentless pursuit of buried treasure?

Today on Mixer, Microsoft and Rare revealed the answers to some of these burning questions, with more to come as we sail towards Sea of Thieves' planned March 2018 launch window.

So far, we know that Sea of Thieves will contain quests for buried treasure, riddles to solve, and gorgeous oceans to sail, showcasing some of the best water physics ever seen in a game. In Sea of Thieves' permanently-connected world, you will encounter other players, and yes, they can kill you.

Pirate crews of up to four players will be able to sail large vessels, or go it alone in a smaller, speedier ship should they so choose. But beyond the sailing, skeleton shooting, and treasure chest hunting, what is the "goal" of Sea of Thieves?

Microsoft has been rather quiet about some of Sea of Thieves' finer nuances, and the playtest demos we've experienced at E3 and Gamescom were slimmed-down experiences, hiding some of the games' richer systems and mechanics. Finally, Rare has offered us a glimpse into how Sea of Thieves pirates will find fortune and glory in its vast oceanic world.

Becoming a Pirate Legend

Sea of Thieves' core gameplay mechanics will revolve around earning reputation with various in-game trading companies, which offer various quests and activities for players to complete either in groups, or solo.

As you complete more difficult objectives, new adventures will begin to unlock, granting various cosmetic rewards including player titles, ranks, pirate clothing, and beyond. We've spoken to Rare previously about the reward mechanics in Sea of Thieves, and it will also include things like ship customization, such as adding unique flags and sails to celebrate and represent your pirate crew.

So far, Rare has unveiled three trading companies, each with a different playstyle.

The Gold Hoarders are all about amassing huge wealth, seeking treasure for profit. These voyages focus on hunting treasure in all of its myriad forms.

The Merchant Alliance are setting up to control trade and goods in the Sea of Thieves. Merchant Alliance voyages revolve around trade, capturing wildlife or other goods, for example, and then delivering them for profit (keeping them safe from thieving players or crazy storms in the process). Fans of Elite Dangerous will probably enjoy this one.

The Order of Souls are seeking ancient, mystical artifacts, and will pay handsomely for them. These voyages are combat oriented, revolving around taking down priority targets and "bosses" to collect their souls.

Quests in Sea of Thieves are known as voyages, and they are represented in-game by physical objects, printed on parchment. Players can place their voyages on the table in their ship, so that other crew members can vote on which voyage to undertake next. The voyages themselves will look more prestigious to reflect the difficulty and "level" of the quest, moving from objectives printed on scruffy paper bound in leather, moving up to jewelled maps sealed with gold.

Regardless of a player's rank or progress with any particular trading company, all pirates will be able to vote on quests and progress together regardless of personal current standing.

Our goal has always been to allow players to play together, not putting barriers up between new and old players, but to create an experience that rewards players for the time and effort they put in.

Rare wants multiplayer to be completely seamless in Sea of Thieves, which is why the studio has included non-verbal chat functionality, in addition to voice and text-based solutions.

While your personal progression will remain separate, any rewards earned during shared quests will be achieved by everyone in the crew while playing together. You will also be able to vote on what objectives and activities to take on next, should you choose to party up. Otherwise, you can stick it out solo, if you so choose (or queue up with random players). It sounds as though all of Sea of Thieves' progression won't be stat-based or level-based, meaning you won't encounter dreadfully overpowered players like in The Division's Dark Zone or World of Warcraft open world player vs. player combat. Instead, Sea of Thieves will revolve around personal cosmetic progression, unlocking more increasingly epic quests, and skill-based combat. I'm told that Kraken from the original concept trailer is still a thing too...

We talked to Game Director Joe Neate from Rare about Sea of Thieves' progression system, and how cosmetics and quest unlocking will form the basis of play, allowing players to focus on co-operative fun over stats and grinding.

Players will earn cosmetics, allowing them to show up how they want to other players, but will also earn access to new voyages and adventures they can share with their friends. This is what we feel is special about "Sea of Thieves'" progression, and it just feels right for the experience we're creating. Our goal has always been to allow players to play together, not putting barriers up between new and old players, but to create an experience that rewards players for the time and effort they put in.

It's all coming together

For a while, Sea of Thieves remained a bit of an enigma, despite the fact I've played it for several hours at this point across various game events and shows. As we speed towards the game's March 20, 2018 planned launch date, however, it seems as though Rare is preparing a solid feature set for budding pirates on launch day. Do not take your eyes off this game.

You can pre-order Sea of Thieves now for both Xbox One and Windows 10 for $59.99.

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Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Comments are pathetic here nowadays. Everyone is leaving cuz of no mobile.
  • Wrong Place for that comment. But this game seems to want me to press that pre-order button More and more lately.
  • @Neo Nuke Same, I was a bit on the fence about the progression systems, but I think they're gonna nail it. Very excited for beta.
  • @kenzibit What does your comment have to do with this article?
  • So excited for this, I just know it will be a blast. We're almost there!
  • Cosmetic loot only is a really interesting choice.  On one hand if the cosmetics aren't truly interesting and varied it won't provide enough of a hook for people. On the other hand I hate it when I feel like playing some Destiny and can't play with my friends because they are at a point where their activities require too much light. Or when I've been playing and have to go back and drag a friend through content I've already done and won't get rewards for in order to play with them.  If they nail it the system has the potential to be way more engaging across groups of friends with varying levels of play commitment. 
  • For me, it doesn't look too good. This looks like a game that was made and designed with microtransactions (possibly loot boxes) in mind. For me, this is a free2play game that has an entry fee of $60 bucks...
  • So far I don't see anything that you HAVE to spend money on. So if it were F2P, where would the money come from?
  • @Axmantim Well they won't communicate on that now.. I hope it doesn't have any but looking at the video it just looks like it's just a matter of time they'll present it to us. I was giving my opinion of what I saw. What I'm saying is that if they end up adding microtransactions then it should be F2P. Making a game that's using F2P model and charging $60 bucks for it is just wrong for me...
  • I'll wait to see whether they have any microtransactions present, and if they do what form they take. I'm not fond of the way recent games have decided to utilize loot box systems but I'm not going to become hysterical, seeing them in every possible game from here on out. I'm not opposed to them as a matter of principal, i'm opposed to their current incarnation. I'm also opposed to the current trend of jumping on games like Battlefront (because gambling!111!!!) while ignoring Counter Strike, Overwatch, Rocket League, etc. where the only difference is clearly popularity of the dev and game. 
  • While I am against loot boxes on any forms, same for micro transactions or even half baked/disguised advertising DLCs (like in Forzas), the jump on SW BF2 is because of the obvious abusive and predatory aspect of it and the fact that it's a 60$ pay to win game. Rocket league at least offers all the new maps for free and the items are cosmetic only, even if I believe that no cars should be in the loot boxes. Also they now give during events a few free game that you can get by playing.
  • @SteadyMercury "but I'm not going to become hysterical, seeing them in every possible game from here on out." So far they haven't said there won't be any. They have openly talked about game as a service. Meaning keep asking money from people after the initial $60 fee is paid. I think these devs/publishers are warned after what happened with EA. And yes, ALL companies no matter who they are should get the same treatment as EA if they do this bs. I've not waited for battlefront to jump on the trend. I've been talking of this for years.
  • "They have openly talked about game as a service. Meaning keep asking money from people after the initial $60 fee is paid." That's not what games as a service means. It means that when you get connected online (in sea of thieves I believe that's any time you play) the update happens while you're playing (a new NPC or area etc downloads) When you're playing offline, those updates are available to you (I realize SoT won't have this, but it's correct for other titles). Monetization can happen (as well it should) but the two are not mutually exclusive.
  • "That's not what games as a service means." "Developers are looking at ways to make money off games for as long as possible, through downloadable content, cosmetic microtransactions, and good-old fashioned loot boxes. " "Titles that have become global hits recently have tended to be offered via the “Games as a Service” model, and we believe this is going to be the mainstream model for gaming in the future. In developing future titles, we will approach game design with a mind to generate recurring revenue streams." Let's be honest here these companies are doing it to make more money as long as possible after the initial game is sold.
  • Monetization should not happen. I want a game. I don't want a service. This is where Micro$oft fails and frightens me in gaming. They haven't released a first party exclusive (that is actually good for one) without some form of Pay to win in the past couple years. I don't care how minor you will debate it is. Giving someone stat advantages if they pay for it is Pay to Win and Micro$oft has been pushing for it. Stop supporting that crap it screws over us real gamers when you folks keep allowing these ecosystems to exist by paying for the game. Irritates the rest of us.
  • I agree, it's all gambeling, but the reason why BF2 got so much more attention is because of the way it was done. The other games are all cosmetic MTX's BF2 required them if you wanted to actually compete. That kind of MTX's may work with cell phones, but I don't think it'll work for PC/console gamers at least in my lifetime. So they got way more attention.
  • You'd have to play the game to understand. But you didn't need to pay anything to compete. Bekieve me as I've been playing battlefront since day one. Don't believe everything the Internet blows up for you to see. Some of its true yes but it's never as black and white as it seems. I just went 44 and 4 in battlefront and haven't spent a dime. Also just got free dlc
  • Why put in that effort when I could have just paid to win. You should be ashamed for supporting them even after they stopped. I quit Xbone after 2013 because of what they tried with always online and lo and behold UWP is unmoddable BS trash that is basically DRM disguised as an API. These companies don't learn and now M$ gives me console games on my PC. Pray to god they don't moneyhat an IP that I actually like as all theirs are trash.  
  • I would like to see Conker as a playable character down the line!
  • this is strictly multi like overwatch or is there single player content like destiny?
  • You can play solo, I've been playing solo all day in the alpha.
  • You can play solo but it is in a shared world so other pirates can still kill you. Ive been playing since early alpha and playing on a crew with others is the most fun but if I dont have a lot of time to play I will sometimes do a quick solo ship session.